City trades parking lot for public park

Continuing a trend of turning parking lots into paradise along the waterfront, the Port Orchard City Council has unanimously approved the South Kitsap Rotary Club’s plan to transform lined asphalt into a public walkway and gazebo along Blackjack Creek.

David Latham, head of the South Kitsap Rotary Club’s Community Service Committee, said City Engineer Larry Curles suggested the improvements when club members solicited ideas for a community project to commemorate Rotary International’s Centennial in 2005.

“We told Curles we were looking for a good project, and he said, ‘I’ll tell you what we’re hot to do, but we just don’t have the money for,” Latham said.

Once Curles described his idea for ripping out an under-utilized parking lot along the creek and putting in grass, picnic tables and a walkway that would lead to a gazebo, Latham said it sounded exactly like the kind of project the club was looking to tackle, and asked him to draw up a plan.

“I got the impression he’d been wanting to do something with the area for a long time,” Latham said.

According to city surveys, many residents have expressed a desire for more public access to the waterfront. In the downtown area, a line of parking stalls was converted to a linear park that is now a very popular gathering spot along the Port Orchard Marina, and Curles notes in his proposal that the Blackjack Creek Walkway will be as popular, or more so, as the marina park.

Last week, the project that will afford walkers, runners and bicyclists another attractive place to stroll, or rest and enjoy the view, along the waterfront gained quick and solid approval from both the City Council and the SK Rotary Club Board, and Latham said his fellow board members are anxious to begin work.

“Our club is just unanimous in getting behind it — this is our baby,” Latham said. “Now we just have to figure out how to pay for it.”

Latham said once the club embraced the project after its latest board meeting Friday night, first thing Monday morning he began working to raise funds for its approximately $50,000 pricetag.

According to Curles’ project proposal, the money will be used to: remove 80 tons of asphalt, install 275 feet of new curb, 250 feet of a six-foot wide sidewalk, buy picnic tables and a $10,000 to $12,000 gazebo.

Latham said the Rotary is hoping to partner with the Boy and Girl Scouts to complete some of the manual work, such as installing the picnic tables and completing much of the landscaping.

The project is scheduled to be completed by 2005, in time for the Rotary centennial celebration, and will be broken into at least two phases. Latham said the first phase, removing the asphalt, is tentatively scheduled for next January.

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